Odds-on favorite Epicharis needed, and found, just enough room on the fence to get up in Sunday’s Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo, preserving his perfect record and topping the inaugural Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Epicharis earned 50 points for his Hyacinth victory in this separate scoring system in Japan, comprising just the Hyacinth and the November 26 Cattleya Sho. Cattleya Sho winner Mont Saint Legame had 40 points, but couldn’t add to that total when finishing only 10th in the Hyacinth.
Now that Epicharis tops the leaderboard in Japan, he’ll garner an invitation to the Kentucky Derby (G1). The question becomes whether his connections – U. Carrot Farm and trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara – will accept that invitation. So far, Hagiwara has targeted the UAE Derby (G2) on Dubai World Cup night, March 25, and the June 10 Belmont S. (G1).
If Epicharis doesn’t venture to Churchill Downs for the first Saturday in May, Mont Saint Legame would be next in line for the ticket. He remains second in the standings, having twice as much as the next Adirato, who banked 20 points as the Hyacinth runner-up. Should Mont Saint Legame not accept, Adirato would receive the invitation. Those three are the only ones eligible to be invited via this Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.
A grandson of the great 1989 Kentucky Derby and Preakness (G1)-winning champion Sunday Silence, Epicharis earned heavy favoritism here on the strength of three successive romps. He dominated a newcomers’ race at Niigata on August 14, an allowance at Tokyo on October 15, and his stakes debut in the Hokkaido Nisai Yushun when last seen November 1.
The Hyacinth presented a sterner test, but Epicharis proved up to it. Tucked on the rail drafting just behind pacesetter Adirato, the second choice, he appeared to be traveling well throughout. So was Adirato, and as they swung for home, favorite backers may have had a few anxious moments.
Epicharis’ regular rider, Christophe Lemaire, was just being patient before producing him at the right time. Once he only pushed him out, the big colt lengthened stride to gain on Adirato. Although the needle he was threading on the inside began to tighten up, Epicharis exerted his force of will to hold his position and ultimately subdue Adirato. Edging away by three-quarters of a length, the handsome dark bay completed the 1600 meters (about one mile) in 1:37.8 to extend his record to 4-0.
Hypernova, from the first crop of 2012 Derby and Preakness champion I’ll Have Another, grabbed third. Foggy Night, the son of Tapit and Champagne d’Oro, did well to rally for fourth after blowing the start.
Photos copyright Japan Racing Association